Invicta FC 28’s Kaytlin Neil: “Katniss” Ready For Invicta Debut After Making Noise in Bellator

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Women's flyweight Kaytlin Neil
Kaytlin Neil Credit: Bellator MMA

Invicta FC has a rare road trip taking place this weekend, and former Bellator flyweight Kaytlin Neil is on the card — and looking to make an impact.

When Invicta FC 28 goes down in Salt Lake City, Utah this Saturday, Kaytlin Neil will make her return to the cage. It’s her debut in Invicta FC, and if you’ve been following mixed martial arts closely in the past year, you’ll recognize Neil’s name. She’s the fighter Bellator MMA brought in to take on Brooke Mayo. And in saying “brought in,” the reality is that Neil was expected to lose. Mayo was tabbed as a hot prospect. Neil was a warm body.

A warm body that flipped the script. And despite her getting a high profile win, Neil wound up on the outside looking in. We delved into that, her upcoming fight with Tracy Cortez, and healing up her injured knee as we spoke to her just ahead of fight week.

Speaking of that knee, a nagging issue that had bothered her through a couple of fight camps, well, it’s a problem no more. “It’s actually been really awesome,” said Neil, who noted that she took some time off between fights to deal with the injury. “I got a procedure to done to help heal it, and it hasn’t really been giving me any problems since. So it’s ready to go.”

“My knee is a lot more stable than it was,” she told us. “For my past two fight camps, or my past three fight camps, it actually popped out probably anywhere from six to eight times, and it hasn’t given me a problem this fight camp at all.” That’s great news, and something she attributes to PRP (platelet-rich plasma) therapy.

“I also got PRP done on my shoulder almost three years ago,” she explained, “and it hasn’t given me a problem either.” The big benefit was that she avoided going under the knife. “It’s a lot less invasive than surgery, that’s why I did it. I was avoiding it [surgery] at all costs.”

Invicta FC 28 will mark the first fight for “Katniss” since a high profile bout in another big promotion. That was last September, at Bellator 183. That night, Neil upset the promotion’s plans to really push Brooke Mayo. Mayo had arguably been robbed in her promotional debut; the outfit seemed to have brought Neil in to lose. Mayo was pushed in the weeks leading up to the bout, her opponent an afterthought. Yet Neil, like Mayo, was looking for her first win — making her a hungry fighter. And though she’d later realize she’d been brought in as cannon fodder, it’s not something she recognized at the time.

“To be honest, I was completely oblivious to it until after the fight. And then it all kind of hit me and I realized ‘Oh, I was brought in to lose. Oh well.’ I didn’t think about it, it didn’t bother me,” she recalled. Instead, she was just happy to be trying out her skills on a big stage for a change. Because of that, “I’m glad that they had me, and I was just oblivious to the whole thing.”

After the unanimous decision win against Mayo, it was a little surprising to see Neil estranged from the promotion. The feeling was, she’d be a welcome part of Bellator’s flyweight division. Personable, active on social media, and with a high profile win, why not throw her in the mix? Instead, Bellator wanted her to go out and get some seasoning. “All that they said to me was that they wanted me to even out my record before I go back,” she told Cageside Press, “which I feel like is reasonable for Bellator. But, I just think it’s their loss that they kind of let me go.”

Their loss has become Invicta’s gain. And Invicta, as is well known, is a pathway to the UFC. “That is the end game for me,” Neil admitted. “I want to fight in the UFC, that’s one of my goals. It was kind of a bittersweet moment that Bellator didn’t want me back. I was happy because I could potentially go into Invicta or a more UFC geared route, but I was also kind of sad because they didn’t want me. So it was kind of half and half bittersweet, but yeah, the UFC is the ultimate goal.”

She can, however, thank Bellator for a big boost in her public profile. “Yeah, after that fight [against Mayo], well the week of the fight I gained like five thousand followers on Instagram. So that was pretty cool. And then my pictures were getting way more likes then they normally did,” she explained. The end result, a lot more attention and a lot more social media traffic.

As for her upcoming opponent Tracy Cortez, well, she’s flown under the radar in comparison to Neil, who had a solid run as an amateur before going pro. “I’ve looked at her,” Neil said. “Her one loss is one of my losses too, so we lost to the same girl. I watch that fight a lot. She just seems super aggressive.” That’s something Neil is preparing for. “I’m working on having an aggressive opponent coming at me, constantly coming. She’s also a pretty good wrestler, so I’ve been working wrestling a lot, wrestling defense, trying to be prepared for anything that comes up.”

Neil, however, isn’t one to game plan or overthink her approach to a fight. Instead, “I prefer to just go with the flow,” she told us. “I’ll work on a few things and I’ll kind of try to look for them in the fight, but mainly I just go with the flow. I think if I had a game plan and it wasn’t going to game plan, I’d freak out. So I just choose not to have one.”

The ability to be spontaneous is a good quality for a fighter to have, because “you never know what’s going to happen in a fight.”

One thing Kaytlin Neil can bank on at Invicta FC 28, however, is having the crowd in her corner. The fight takes place in her home state of Utah, and she’s admittedly excited. “It’s a big crowd, everybody cheers,” she said, adding “it’s fun, a lot of people there are rooting for me. It’s always a good time at home.” The Utah stop is a rare road trip for the promotion, which usually operates out of its home base in Kansas City, MO. Prompting “Katniss” (yes, she’s a fan of the Hunger Games, though more the movies than the books) to suggest that her appearance on the card was “just meant to be.”

Perhaps her fighting career was too. Neil made the jump from dance to fighting while in college. “I grew up doing dance and gymnastics, so I had no clue what fighting was. I was really competitive, and I went to go try out for the college cheer team,” she explained. It didn’t happen. “I ended up not making it, and I was like ‘okay, well what do I do now? This is weird.’ My friends took me to some fights my first year of college, and I had no clue what was going on.”

However, that night changed everything. “There was one girl fight on the card, and after the fight was over, I was like ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to do that.'” From there, Neil signed up for a gym and began training.

She wasn’t always certain where the journey would take her. “It was crazy, because the year I started was the year Ronda got in the UFC,” Neil explained. “When I did start, I was kind of confused, like ‘where do girls go? What’s the highest they can go? If it’s not the UFC, why am I doing this if I can’t go as high as I can?’ Then Ronda ended up fighting within the year that I started, and I was like ‘oh this is sweet!'” Thanks to that lucky bit of timing, Neil has come all the way to the big leagues, first with Bellator and now with Invicta FC. A big win on Saturday should help cement her status as a flyweight prospect.

As for what will happen in the cage that night? “I don’t want to say my prediction because I don’t want her [Tracy Cortez] to know what’s going to happen,” Neil said. “But I believe I’ll be winning in the second round via stoppage. That’s all I’m going to say.”

Kaytlin Neil faces Tracy Cortez at Invicta FC 28, March 24, live exclusively on UFC Fight Pass. Be sure to catch the full interview above, where we dive into female fighters being marketed for their sexuality, who might beat her in a dance-off, and even the recent Red Sparrow movie.

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